Demonstration of a lightweight city, sky and apartment interior in one model spanning hundreds of thousands of kilometres

I needed to create a Penal Colony on Enceladus from the year 3019 for a sitcom I’m writing with my cousin. I wanted to see the characters’ world at a glance, and walk through it for story ideas. It has already helped immensely. This is not a piece of art by any means, but after trying Unity and Blender, Sketchup was a million times easier and quick for architecture.

I ended up downloading the trial version of Sketchup Studio, which is AU$1200 per year. Gulp.

  1. The Sky.
    If you are using Sketchup Free you can choose styles from the styles tab. Paid / Trial versions of Sketchup allow you to pick the ground and sky COLOURS, but won’t allow you to place a sky image except what they call a ‘Watermark’, which is supposed to be for a company logo and doesn’t work as the sky at all. I spent a lot of time building a 1 million metre diameter sky dome which was frustrating for 4 reasons: extreme clipping, absolute lack of control, blockage of light for shadows and blockage of me from my model. The solution was to set the sky to the colour I wanted, then create a cylinder with a diameter of only one hundred thousand metres and height of twenty thousand metres, paint it black like the sky and chop it in half so I could work. Now I could put Saturn in the ‘Sky’. I did this by fading black around the edge of a Saturn pic in photoshop, creating a 20,000m high rectangle in front of the cylinder, clicking File>Import>(Select Saturn Image)>Import as Texture, then pasting my image onto that rectangle. I right clicked it, and selected ‘Projected’. Then I clicked View>Hidden Geometry, and selected all the polygons on the cylinder I wanted Saturn to appear on, clicked B for paint bucket, held Alt while I left clicked the Saturn rectangle to conjure the image sampling eyedropper, let go of Alt, which converted the eyedropper back to a paint bucket icon, and then clicked on the highlighted cylinder polygons directly behind the Saturn Rectangle. Saturn immediately appeared on the black cylinder. It is a clumsy tool and took a few attempts to make it nice. My makeshift sky was now complete.

  2. City
    My city is just a basic penal colony in development but I have learned from experience to minimise polygons and run the project from a solid state drive. The 100,000km radius of my project results in clipping at a distance of ten metres. This seems to mean that Sketchup will clip your images when you shrink down to 0.1% of your model’s widest distance, probably due to OpenGL distance settings - please let me know if you figure out how to hack it. I checked out a bunch of ‘Minimise Clipping’ Extensions but they didn’t work or just switched me to a different camera mode. You want to keep your project under 100,000m at this point in history. To make sure you don’t have a guide dot or building off in the distance somewhere, you can easily check by clicking Camera>Zoom Extents. Not a very good name for this function, but it works. I deleted a few guides that were about a million metres away and it reduced clipping. When creating buildings, you will need to copy and paste arrays of objects often. To repeat a move-copy (M,LMB+Ctrl+move your mouse), you can simply type ‘x’ and a number and then enter after you have move-copied one or a group of objects. This will create an array. I forgot about this and was placing 1000 floors on each of my 10,000m towers manually. One thing I didn’t figure out was concentric circles, so that took me hours. The 582nd floor of C Tower took me hours, and I ended up getting the extension Solid Inspector2 from Extensions>Extension Warehouse. It can fix a few things on its own but the main thing is that it highlights things in red that you need to fix. If I knew how each prisoner storey with a diameter of 1000m was going to be laid out before I started, I would have avoided a lot of time wasting. Always start with a 3D version instead of a flat shape where necessary so it can be modified easily. A flat circle or rectangle when making a building is just asking for time wasting because it’s hard to manipulate it when you’ve got 1000 objects sticking out of and through it.

  3. Apartment / Prison Cell

The tiny little apartment looking out over Saturn beyond the shiny butt of the protagonist’s grandfather’s statue as shown in the video is 10x10x10m. Each 3 floor cell holds 4 convicts. I gave each cell two 2.4m high sleeping quarters and the main kitchen, living, holovision room is 5m high. Entry through the force field of each cell works with the inhabitant’s implanted wrist identifier, if they are not locked in for violence prevention. My characters got a window because they’re special. I estimate each floor could hold about - well I think I screwed up my calculations - but a lot. Each floor is 10m high and each tower is 10,000m. 1,000 floors. Not only is it the 31st Century with half-decent technology, but without artificial gravity, 100kg weighs 1kg on Enceladus. Jumping off the top floor wouldn’t hurt you when you landed (unless your gravity boots were glitchy). It’s banned, though. The apartments / cells are tiny in this project. From a distance of 10m I could no longer see them due to clipping. I spent ages switching to Camera>Parallel Projection mode so I could move closer but Sketchup’s tools just couldn’t handle it. The slightest movement and I’d be on the other side of Saturn or 100km under the floor. I spent hours trying to deal with the controls. It was like wrestling a slippery eel - Sketchup doesn’t like large models at all, even though I see largish Sketchup neighbourhood images all over the internet. The Parallel Projection mode is broken at the best of times. The real solution is simply this: Make your apartment or room into a Group (I assigned the hot keys Ctrl+G for Group, Ctrl+Shift+G for Explode, Ctrl+Shift+Z for Redo, Ctrl+H for Hide, Ctrl+Shift+H for Unhide All and ` for Play Animation). Whenever you want to edit the apartment or room, S for scale it up precisely 10 times larger and when you are finished, scale it back down to 0.1 so its the right size.

In this video, I gathered a lot of information from tutorials and people on this forum etc. Most of what I had to do were workarounds due to the limitations of the software. Not being able to assign an image to the sky is quite shocking, actually, and the controls are broken in all large scale projects, so you need to save scenes so you can jump back to a place you need to get to when Sketchup vomits you over to the other side of the map for the 50th time in three minutes. To a large extent, rescaling tiny objects is THE solution to counter a lot of clipping issues while working, and of course, people need to be able to see your model properly so don’t go above 100,000km unless you want to show everything from a distance. Anyway, this map has already helped me formulate ideas for my stories, and it didn’t require making separate models for interiors and cities. A 100,000m diameter model is possible, even at this point in history.


1 Like